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The Downward Spiral
November 11, 2008 10:36 PM   Subscribe

What killed Sgt. Gray? "He survived the war only to die at home. An exploration of his death and his combat unit's activities reveals what can happen to soldiers who feel the freedom -- or the pressure -- to do things in war they can't live with later." -- An American Radioworks documentary.
posted by empath (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't often say this about links, but this documentary is powerful and Capital-I IMPORTANT. Well worth a listen, and probably should forward this to friends. Let's please not forget this war is still happening, and that people are still dying every day -- in Iraq, on the battlefield; at in the US, after they come back.
posted by empath at 10:38 PM on November 11, 2008


Thanks for the link.
Looks like American Radioworks podcasts their documentaries and they look great.
posted by aeighty at 11:08 PM on November 11, 2008


That is a poor article. From the evidence presented, I have no reason to doubt that attempting to huff fumes with a bag over his head killed Sgt. Gray.

While PTSD is certainly an awful thing, the articles attempts to twist the facts to fit its hypothesis don't really add up- like using something he said to show us how disturbed he was, then telling us he was actually quoting a movie. And the most obvious question of all- why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK? Unless I missed something, the article does not even attempt to answer this question.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:23 PM on November 11, 2008


why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK?

To be around those who might understand, to be in the company of comrades rather than suffering alone? Perhaps the hell you know is easier to face than the hell you don't?
posted by maxwelton at 11:46 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel bad for this guy but he did of his own will sign up to go and kill strangers who'd never offered him or anyone he knew any harm. Sgt. Gray had a home to go back to. Through the actions of Sgt. Gray and his companions, there are literally millions of Iraqis who do not.

The US has killed about five million innocents since World War II; that includes about two million civilians in the Vietnam war alone, as well as several hundred thousand in Iraq. These facts are hardly secret. Even the most stupid person has a responsibility to find this sort of thing out before going somewhere and killing a lot of people.

Frankly, I don't think that suicide is an inappropriate response to having the blood of many innocent victims on your hands.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:49 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Last Tour: A decorated marine’s war within.
posted by homunculus at 12:48 AM on November 12, 2008


Distress Signal: One Iraq veteran's suicide shows the human cost of the overburdened VA medical system, and the tragedies that occur when the care of veterans is delayed or insufficient.
posted by homunculus at 12:49 AM on November 12, 2008


drjimmy11: why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK?

That's an interesting question, but it seems the psychology of war, and its effect on troops is pretty counter-intuitive (or at least runs counter to the image of war typically presented in the media), I recently read On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the base motivations and emotions of troops in battle and afterwards; It answered your question for me anyway.
posted by nfg at 2:38 AM on November 12, 2008


yay, transcript!
posted by Eideteker at 5:32 AM on November 12, 2008


...why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK?

Humans are amazingly capable of doing things that would seem to be counter to their own well being. Abused women who keep going back into abusive relationships, for instance.

Human psychology doesn't give a damn about logic.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


drjimmy..

the neocons lost, you don't need to try to spin things any longer. PTSD is real, it has a long term impact on those that suffer from it...

But, I'm not going to convince you, go ahead and put your head back in the sand..... it's easier to live with the world that has been created if you can't see it...
posted by HuronBob at 6:09 AM on November 12, 2008


And the most obvious question of all- why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK? Unless I missed something, the article does not even attempt to answer this question.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:23 AM on November 12 [+] [!]


Sigfried Sassoon volunteered to return to the front in WWI after having published a pacifist anti-war letter which nearly got him court-martialed and then having been put in a hospital for shell-shock. It's unclear whether he had PTSD (he wasn't classically shell-shocked, but he certainly suffered psychologically as many others did), but he was both deeply against the war, and also wanted to serve with his men because he felt he had a duty to them.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on November 12, 2008


I have read that soldiers coming home often reenlist because they feel compelled to return and continue to assist fellow soldiers who had been fighting alongside them. It's not because they enjoy the war itself, it's the depth of the bonds they've built with their comrades.
posted by schroedinger at 8:39 AM on November 12, 2008


The other thread, where it's all "rah rah vetrans," I don't feel 100% comfortable joining in, because as much as I respect all of the men and women who want to do the right thing and help their country, I also know that an awful lot of awful people use Iraq (and Nam before it) as an excuse to do an awful lot of awful things.

But this thread, blaming the vets for having suffered…I'm not comfortable with that, either.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:56 AM on November 12, 2008


There is also a pervading sense of survivor's guilt that plagues several of the people I know who've made it back - the lines between "it shouldn't have happened like that" and "it should have been me" get rather blurry for them, and the judgment calls that get made while in those states are often at odds with self-preservation.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:09 AM on November 12, 2008


Sgt. Prescott Shipway was killed during the war only to be resurrected at home.
posted by gman at 10:55 AM on November 12, 2008


...soldiers with PTSD often volunteer to return to the battlefield because their newly hyper vigilant state is, well, closer to normal in a theater of war.
posted by availablelight at 11:36 AM on November 12, 2008


why would someone who was so traumatized by the war VOLUNTEER TO GO BACK?

I know a lot of people who did this.

It can be incredibly difficult to spend six months, a year, a year and a half in a combat zone and then come back to a 'normal' life and partake in the really mundane things that you used to be able to do without thinking. Driving straight down a road without looking for bombs or snipers, walking around in a crowded place without watching every single person around you, or even just being able to sleep a solid 6 hours a night without waking up. And then a whole world has passed while you were away, and every routine that you were once a part of no longer needs you.

Sometimes it's easier to just do what you're doing while deployed with all of your friends who get it too, than to come home and fight your demons here. Me, I still find it hard to deal with the fact that a year ago I was a medic in Al Asad and now... I'm a college student. And I'm sitting in a classroom while my friends are now in Afghanistan. I got out of the military though, and despite all of my readjustment issues (I would hesitate to classify any of my problems as "PTSD"), I think about re-enlisting pretty much everyday.
posted by lullaby at 11:42 AM on November 12, 2008


Yeah, I know people who are out in harms way now. Tough to sit back and not be there.
That’s the thing, whatever the war is or isn’t, whatever is going on, there are still those personal connections.

If you’ve been that close, not only shared your life with a group of folks, but done it under high stress, you kind of depend on them and feel like you’re needed and need to be there for them too.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:20 PM on November 12, 2008


"Frankly, I don't think that suicide is an inappropriate response to having the blood of many innocent victims on your hands." - posted by lupus_yonderboy

Should I kill myself lupus_yonderboy? I'm serious as a heartattack. Plenty of guns here at the house. I'm a veteran.

Should I put a gun to my head and kill myself right now?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:30 PM on November 12, 2008


Smedleyman, thanks for your service. lupus_yonderboy's a dick who doesn't appreciate the fact that our military is what gives him the freedom to make his shitty music.

As a veteran, you know you protect the rights of all americans, regardless if they deserve it or not. Free speech is one of those rights, too bad some go about exercising it the way lupus_yonderboy does.
posted by ShadowCrash at 3:00 PM on November 12, 2008


Frankly, I don't think that suicide is an inappropriate response to having the blood of many innocent victims on your hands.

Frankly, I don't think that this is a productive response to the problem. And that problem is that the US did deploy its military to a combat zone, and is currently embroiled in an ongoing conflict, and thousands of people are coming back to our country worse for the wear. And we need to figure out a way to ensure that veterans are able to be productive members of society after we, the US, sent them to war.

But if you'd prefer to sit and talk about how the baby-killers have blood on their hands, that's fine. As a US taxpayer, so do you.
posted by lullaby at 3:31 PM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


ShadowCrash, thank you.
But I have a different perspective. I can’t take credit for defending free speech (other than the very, very loose and general way any military defends a country from any given threats - I have more directly fought for free speech however).

By the same token, my argument to lupus, and others, has always been that I am not responsible for the actions other service members perform.
Indeed, the position on an individual warfighter’s responsiblity in wartime has been well defended, and I think fairly conclusively, recently even.

And without, I’ll add, dismissing or seeking to excuse, as paisley henosis says, the awful things that have been done.

And awful things have been done.

And indeed, elements of my (and others) positions have augmented seeking to redress such things.

Yet he insists on reiterating the same lines of rhetoric as though there has been absolutely no discussion on the topic.

As though no point could in any way mitigate even the most altruistic service - merely because it’s - even tenuously - attached to the U.S. military.

Were this rhetoric being aimed at any other group of people, however they were classed, it would not be tolerated.
But it’s always “Oh, it’s different because you all kill people.”
Well, no, we all fucking don’t.

I mean, I had a friend in the medical corps, never picked up a weapon past training. Saved hundred and hundreds of lives - local, civilian lives, (genocide - but gee, not by Americans, imagine that) with just his hands and the meager equipment he had.

But no, he’s a piece of shit because of something some guy did a thousand miles away in a war 50 years ago - under policies that no longer exist.

Hell, it’s not even the same country it was a year ago. Obama’s already talking about closing Gitmo and making other changes.

But no, my friend is dead, and oh, he belongs dead, because what - of how the U.S. military system is?
And it’s GOOD that he’s dead?

So fuck it. End the world.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's really hard to find a balance between respect and gratitude to most veterans, and the total contempt for the sociopaths and baby-rapists. It is really easy to either pardon them all and say they're heroes, the lot, or to condemn everyone for the actions of a subset.

As far as I can tell, the only solutions, to help those of us who never served figure out how to deal with that confusion is either universal mandatory military service, or to stop going to war. Personally, I would vote for the second one.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bring. Soldiers. Home. Now.
posted by humannaire at 4:20 PM on November 12, 2008


"Personally, I would vote for the second one."

Yeah. Seconded.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:41 PM on November 12, 2008


Individual atrocities aside, I take issue when people sit back in the states and condemn the military b/c "they knew what they were signing up for". Individual service members can make decisions on the ground regarding their personal actions, but it's not their call on the big issues (like if we invade a nation in the first place).

I'm not defending individuals that violate the geneva conventions. I just think blaming the military as a whole for any and all sins of the USA is an attempt to shift the blame away from where it belongs. The people responsible for the big decisions are the senior leaders in the pentagon, the elected officials, and the people who voted them in to office. Hell, even the people who didn't vote for them are at least partially responsible for tolerating a war being fought in their name.

There's plenty of people in the world that would condemn lupus_yonderboy for being a US citizen the same way he casually dismisses half a million Americans for serving in the military.
posted by ShadowCrash at 6:05 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, the only solutions, to help those of us who never served figure out how to deal with that confusion is either universal mandatory military service, or to stop going to war.

If you go to war, great works of art will be burned and lost forever, babies will be killed, women will be raped, soldiers will be tortured, and all by young men -- boys really -- some of them before they even have a chance to live their lives. If you're not fine with doing that to achieve your aims, then you should not be supporting a war.
posted by empath at 7:09 PM on November 13, 2008


“If you're not fine with doing that to achieve your aims, then you should not be supporting a war.”

Part of the problem with that is the quaker approach. I have very deep respect for those folks and other pacifists who walk the walk.
But even if you’re someone who will never fight, never raise their hand in anger, if someone starts hitting you - you’re in a fight.
Same thing with war.
Rape, torture, murder, theft - those will all happen whether anyone signs up to fight or not.
Certainly an expansion of pacifist organizations would be a huge help.
Solidarity with those organizations over, say, national or other organizational (religion, ethnicity, etc) sects would be a major boon to peace.But so would redress of economic imbalance, etc. I mean, if I’m starving and my family is dying, and you’re living high on the hog, I’m probably going to pick up a weapon and try to take from you.
And if I can’t do it alone I’m going to find others.
And of course, you’re going to try to stop me. And band together and hire or cajole other folks into fighting for your side.
And the whole thing starts again.

So it’s not just ideology, no matter how committed one is to a higher principle or cause such as peace.

As Brecht said, food first, then politics.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:38 PM on November 17, 2008


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